It’s been a year since many employers shifted their operations to remote environments. While some have returned to “onsite” operations, many remain working from home.
Managers and employers are now seeing something curious. Many people are showing increasing distrust of their coworkers. Why is this happening, and what can you do about it? This guide offers some suggestions for coping with WFH suspicions.
Why Don’t Your Team Members Trust Each Other?
The first step in solving this issue is to understand the cause. Even in office environments, it’s common for people to feel others aren’t pulling their weight. Think about the “office gossip.” This person is almost never at their desk. You’ll find them conversing in the break room, by the water cooler, or at the desks of their co-workers.
Other team members can become frustrated by this person. They might find their penchant for chatting distracting or irritating. They may feel their work suffers because this person is constantly “swinging by” to talk to them.
The other common perception of this person is that they’re a slacker. They often rely on other team members to shoulder the load for them. Team members might question their work ethic.
Now put this person behind a computer screen. Do they just say they’re working, then surf social media or play with their kids? How do you know they’re getting work done?
This can be made worse by lack of communication. When you’ve had no updates in a couple of hours, is it because the employee is doing something other than work? What about employees who split their shifts or always seem to be taking “breaks”?
If someone misses an important deadline or isn’t available when they say they will be, this further erodes trust. If this happens, then your team members will suspect more and more that other people aren’t working. That can lead to hard feelings.
Resisting the Temptation to Monitor Every Move
Some people see increased monitoring as the solution. Maybe you need to demand people work 9-to-5 shifts and they’re in their chairs for the entire time. They might think you need more availability on chat or more updates throughout the day. Perhaps you need to install monitoring technologies, like eye-tracking, so you can tell what your team members are paying attention to.
This kind of “police state” would seem to solve the trust issue, because it lets you “prove” that people are indeed doing work in the remote environment.
It’s a symptom of micromanagement, though, and it can actually exacerbate trust issues. Why? When everyone is monitored so closely, it creates resentment. People become more interested in comparing each other’s contributions. They end up locked in a tit-for-tat battle.
This, and micromanagement more generally, are incredibly detrimental to both trust and productivity. So, what can you do instead?
Communicate and Measure Productivity
These two solutions have been put forward by many experts. It’s almost impossible to overcommunicate in the remote environment. Meetings, chat channels, update emails, and reports are all ways of keeping people in touch with each other and “proving” their work.
Other technology, like a human resources information system, can help you keep tabs on productivity. In the remote environment, productivity is actually a better measure of who is “working” than anything else. Ask team members to show concrete, measurable proof of productivity by updating and turning over work on a regular basis.
Of course, you need to strike a balance here. You don’t want team members to spend more time reporting than actually getting work done.
Creating Bonding Opportunities
Good communication and a focus on productivity is a great start, but it’s not enough to alleviate suspicion.
Your team members are likely suffering from isolation. This can lead to depression, but it can also increase feelings of anxiety, anger, irritability, hostility, and suspicion of others. This can lead to breakdown in social relationships. Team members begin to suspect they’re the only ones “really” working, because they haven’t had the chance to bond with their co-workers. It’s difficult to remember you’re all on the same team when you feel like you’re always chasing down other team members for outstanding work.
In short, all work and no play makes for bad teams. It’s difficult to have people bond right now. You certainly can’t send teams to in-person team-building events, but this is what people need.
If you can find virtual versions of team-building exercises, this may help. Try to also provide opportunities for the team to just “hang out” together. An update meeting is important, but so is the opportunity to just chat.
This increases positive feelings towards other team members. Bonding can reduce suspicion, which then reduces the desire to monitor everyone’s moves.
Rebuild Team Trust Now
Trust is probably the most important issue in the work-from-home environment. Your team members need to believe that everyone is working hard towards the same goal. Unfortunately, when we’re all behind computer screens and Internet connections, it can be difficult to believe that.
A combination of the right technology, the right policies, and the right supports will help your team rebuild trust in each other. There will still be rough patches, but keeping team goals front and centre, as well as bonds, will go a long way to restoring trust. Discover how technology can help, rather than hinder, trust for your team.